Friday, June 10, 2011

Are you nonverbally illiterate?


Don’t laugh, you read the question correctly. Are your words in sync with your body language? Were you aware that a person’s true strengths and weaknesses can be revealed by their body language? Carol Kinsey Goman, executive coach and management consultant, shares extensive research in her book, The Silent Language of Leaders – How Body Language Can Help – or Hurt – How You Lead and proves conclusively that nonverbal signals can make or break a leader’s success.

As a leader, you are always “on stage.” Employees watch as you walk around the office, they watch you in the lunch room, they watch the speed of your gait as you enter offices and close doors, and they watch you standing casually near open doors chit-chatting and issuing orders. Are you aware that people scrutinize your every movement? Perhaps, in an effort to become more aware of your behaviors and interactions, you should pretend that you are a Hollywood celebrity and your employees are members of the paparazzi. This may force you to think twice before shouting at an employee in front of others, before you cross your arms as you look at a group of employees, or before you look all over and avoid eye contact with people.

According to Goman, there are five mistakes people make when reading body language:
[1] People don’t consider the context – depending on the context (time of day, location, relationships, past experiences, etc.), the same nonverbal signals can have totally different meanings.
[2] People find meaning in a single gesture – if one person leans against a podium when giving a presentation, he may be tired, whereas, another person may simply be bored.
[3] People don’t know your baseline – one person may avoid eye contact but still be paying attention.
[4] People evaluate through their filter of personal biases – if you meet someone who resembles a favorite relative, that person may immediately like you, or not.
[5] People evaluate through their filter of cultural biases – behaviors may not be right or wrong – just different than what we are accustomed to (for instance, women are not invited to shake hands in some cultures – and in the United States, that would not be acceptable).

According to Goman, there are six body language guidelines for negotiators:
[1] Since people form an opinion of you within the first 7 seconds, be aware of this fact and use it to your advantage (i.e., smile, have a great attitude, and show interest).
[2] Initiate a great handshake (maintain eye contact and smile – useful tip for strong men: don’t, under any circumstance, use super-human strength to attempt to break the other person’s hand – most women find this painful, unnecessary, and immediately lose respect for men who do this).
[3] Continue to build rapport (maintain positive eye contact, lean forward, use head nods of encouragement, smile when appropriate, and mirror the other person’s body postures in a subtle manner).
[4] Display confidence and be positive.
[5] Defuse a strong argument with alignment – sitting or standing shoulder to shoulder facing the same direction.
[6] Make a positive final impression – stand tall and shake hands warmly.

With the increased dependence on technology, people use email, texting, webinars, and social media as opposed to in-person meetings. But with video conferencing and podcasting, people can still feel as if they are in the same room together. However, the conference call has not changed much over the years – it is still a tool that creates some confusion because people cannot see you. 

Here are six tips for conference calls:
[1] Modulate your voice – avoid a monotone and enunciate clearly.
[2] Stay focused – don’t shuffle papers, send emails, or let your gaze wander aimlessly.
[3] Stand – if possible, it will give your voice more energy and conviction.
[4] Smile while you talk.
[5] Keep it short – keep statements short and ask for feedback.
[6] Follow an agenda.

The concept of MBWA was introduced, which translates to "management by walking around." Leaders: how often do you take time to walk around your office and talk to employees? Employees: how often do you encounter your president or other members of senior management walking around the office talking to people they pass in the hall? MBWA creates accessibility, which can be, and is, priceless to employees.

According to Goman, “When properly used, body language can be your key to greater success. It can help you develop positive business relationships, influence and motivate the people who report to you, improve productivity, bond with members of your team, present your ideas with more impact, work effectively in a multicultural world, and project your personal brand of charisma. It’s a ‘secret weapon’ that many great leaders have learned to use to their advantage. Now you can too!”

To learn more, visit Carol’s site:

Follow Carol on Twitter:!/CGoman

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